Learning From the Best Practices of Others

by Jerry Leth, Vice-President and General Manager, MANA

As a MANA member, you can learn from other members’ best practices, a membership benefit. Let’s face it: we live in a changing world and the change accelerates every day. New issues come up and to survive and grow, you need to learn to effectively deal with them. What worked in the past no longer does. Why not tap into the other members’ collective wisdom and knowledge for solutions?

The Agency Sales magazine articles you read provide information on how members deal with some issues. Members also post discussion questions on the MANA LinkedIn group and other members respond with what works for them. MANA staff receives calls from members who want to know what to do about something new that came up. Many times the answer we provide the caller came from another member with whom we spoke. Regardless of the medium, the answers come from the membership’s collective wisdom and knowledge.

To cope with issues brought about by change, MANA started something new. Member Greg Reynolds, Target Marketing Associates, Inc., wanted to form a special interest group for members who sell OEM components into the aerospace industry. We reached out to members who sell into aerospace markets and nine replied who said they want to help start the group. They identified major issues they face, such as customers who place work overseas and the risk you assume when you represent foreign principals. They meet via conference call and work together on optimal ways to solve these problems. This different, and, we believe, effective approach is a work in progress; it will take time to learn how well this Aerospace OEM Special Interest Group (OASIG) performs. We believe it takes us in the right direction.

Before we proceeded, MANA researched how other associations effectively formed special interest groups. We learned that to succeed, the special interest group members must drive and control the group. The association only provides support and acts at the direction of the special interest group. The group decides how they interact with each other, how often they want to meet and how they share results.

Should the OASIG succeed, we expect others to want to form similar communities within MANA. The caveat is, we’ll help you start it and we’ll support it, but you take responsibility for managing it. What we learn from these groups that work, we can pass on to make these communities a valuable resource for other MANA members — another example of how you learn from the “best practices of others.” There’s another benefit to banding together as you create “strength in numbers.” As more members buy into the best practice, it becomes the acceptable practice and you all benefit.

Best practices you learn from others are not enough. Since it’s not what you know that counts, but what you do, you must implement the change. Without implementation, nothing changes and you remain in a rut. And remember, the only difference between a rut and the grave is the length of the hole. So learn from your fellow members what they do and do it yourself. The time you invest in the process yields substantial returns.

Jerry Leth, MANA’s vice-president and general manager, started as membership manager in August 2000. Previously, Jerry owned and operated Letco Tech Sales, Inc., a MANA member, multi-line professional outsourced sales agency he founded in 1989. Before starting his own agency, he managed a network of manufacturers’ reps as vice-president of sales and marketing for torque and tension equipment. Jerry graduated from Stanford with a mechanical engineering degree. He started his career at Hills Brothers Coffee in San Francisco in engineering and production before embarking on a sales career.